Just sold “Catastrophe Baker and the Ship Who Purred” and “Catastrophe Baker in the Hall of the Neptunian Kings” to the anthology Raygun Chronicles..
NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 147, Fall, 2000.
MIKE: There was a time, in the first half of the century, when writing humor was an honorable and even lucrative profession. From John Kendrick Bangs to Ring Lardner to Thorne Smith to Robert Benchley to Dorothy Parker to a dozen other equally familiar names, humor was their metier.
Then something happened. I don’t know quite what. But suddenly the American publishing scene could only support one, or at the most two, humorists at a time: Peter de Vries, Max Schulman, a mere handful of others spread out over the latter half of the 20th Century.
With one exception. Humor is, and always has been, alive and well in the field of science fiction.
Just sold a new series called “The Dead Enders” to Pyr. The first novel in the series will be The Fortress in Orion, which will come out in late 2014.
NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 144, Summer, 2000.
MIKE: It’s common knowledge that John Campbell re-made the field of science fiction in his image (or in Heinlein’s, anyway). It wasn’t a “movement” because the concept didn’t exist then, or when Tony Boucher started asking for literature.
The first one I can think of that bore a name was the New Wave, which originated in Mike Moorcock’s New Worlds, and was initially imported to this side of the drink by Judith Merrill. It practically tore the field apart, and created enmities that exist to this day, although most of what was New to us was rather Old Hat to the mainstream.
But even since then, we’ve been quick — sometimes too quick — to spot and label movements within the field. The most obvious is Cyberpunk, which actually was a pretty clearly-defined movement, with William Gibson a mile and a half ahead of the pack.
Give it a look. It’s a pretty interesting concept:
The Cassandra Project, a collaborative novel by Jack McDevitt and myself, as just been nominated for the Sidewise Award, which is given each year to the best Alnernate History novel and short fiction. It’s available in hardcover from Ace Books, and the paperback is due out this fall.
NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 144, Spring, 2000.
MIKE: We keep skirting and tiptoeing around the issue of money, so maybe it’s time we addressed it.
I’m writing this during the Republican debates in early December, and one of the interesting things is that every single one of their tax-cut plans — and each of them has one — exempts a family of four that makes $36,000 US a year, so it’s pretty fair to say that’s the new poverty level in this heated-up economy.
Now, it seems to me that if you choose to enter the field, it’s realistic to assume that you want to make at least double the poverty level in a reasonable period of time. Otherwise, why bother? There are lots of easier ways to make a buck.
So . . . how do you go about it, barring a bestseller or a movie sale?
I’d say that within four or five books you should have your advances up past $15,000 US if you expect to have any kind of career at all. So let’s say you’ve been in the field four years, long enough to establish whether or not you can sell, and you’re able to turn out two novels a year.
And let’s say you get $17,500 US apiece for them. Do you pack it in and go dig ditches?
Hugo and Nebula winner Ken Liu and I just sold a collaboration, “The Plantimal”, to Asimov’s. Look for it in March or April of 2014. I promise it’s a good one.
Just sold “The Godstone of Venus”, an 11,000-worder, to Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin for their Old Venus anthology. The story has the same main characters as “In the Tomb of the Martian Kings”, the novelette I sold to Gardner and George for Old Mars last year. I plan to set these same characters on every planet in the system in the next few years, and eventually come up with a collection of pure 1937 pulp. (But fun)
NOTE: this article first appeared in the pages of SFWA Bulletin 144, Winter, 1999.
MIKE: There are a lot of misconceptions about agents.
One is that you can’t sell without one. This is demonstrably false; I think most of us sold our first novels without an agent.
Another is that an agent can sell an inferior book. Also false. An agent can get your manuscript read faster, and can probably negotiate a better advance (though you should remember that if it’s only 10% or 15% better, it’s going right into the agent’s pocket), but no agent can make an editor buy an inferior novel.
(Well, yes, they can — but only if it’s “You buy Joe Phan’s first novel or you don’t get the new Stephen King/Tom Clancy/Danielle Steele book.” But while it’s theoretically possible, consider the reaction of King/Clancy/Steele when this gets out — and it always gets out — and ask yourself just how long Mr. or Mrs. Eight-Figure Advance would stay with such an agent.)
Still, an agent’s a handy thing to have. They usually know who’s buying what, they can get you a faster read, the good ones can spot little killer clauses in contracts that slip by a lot of writers, they act as a buffer between the author and the editor, they harass the publisher and his accountant for your money, they make your foreign sales, some of them make your movie/television sales, some of them make your short fiction sales. The good ones are worth their weight in gold; the bad ones can destroy a writer’s career so fast you wouldn’t believe it.